Understanding the parts of an athletic shoe can help you choose the right shoe and prevent problems you may have experienced with other shoes. The aim is not to recommend a specific shoe manufacturer but to help you be a knowledgeable consumer.
After all, athletic shoe prices can put a dent in the monthly family budget (the most popular shoes cost from $45 to $135), and ill-fitting shoes can transform a pleasurable activity into a painful one. A good rule of thumb is to match your scrutiny and cash outlay to the intensity of your running shoe use. If you are having trouble with your shoe fitting your foot, you may find that using two laces, choosing a shoe with a specific kind of eyelet, or adding a removable liner may help.
The sole is made up of the outsole, the midsole, and the insole. The outsole is the bottom of the shoe. Made of different components, the outsole is most commonly made of black Eva. Manufacturers try to match sole treads to specific sports. To prevent slipping and to gain traction, choose the tread with the most waffling and rippling. As its name implies, the midsole lies between the outsole and the insole. Air or Eva or other material is used here for cushioning. The less the materials will compress, the better they are. The insole, or inner lining of the shoe, sometimes now comes with more padding on the medial, or inner, side of the shoe. After some wear, inserting a new liner provides renewed shock absorption. Spenco and Viscolax are brands whose liners are less heavy than Sorbothane.
The upper is the material on top of the shoe. Mesh or nylon breathe and are lighter than leather. Don′t make the mistake of thinking your shoe won′t need replacing until the upper shows wear. Shoes usually lose their shock absorption long before the upper wears out.
Binding the upper to the sole is the last. The upper may be fastened to the sole in one piece (slip-lasted) or may be fastened to a full-length fiber board (board-lasted). Others may be fastened to a fiber board in the heel and sewn in one piece around the front of the foot (combination-lasted). Depending on your arch, your pronation, the straightness of your foot, and the speed at which you will be running, you should get a shoe with a straight last or a curved last.
Choosing a shoe that is wide enough in the toe box (the space in the shoe for the toes) means the toes should have sufficient height and width for comfort, including a finger′s width of distance between the toe and the end of the shoe. The lack of adequate space in the toe box of many women′s dress shoes explains why women have bunions more frequently than men. Above the toe box, in the metatarsal area, the foot also needs adequate space, but a shoe that fits here and in the toe may be too loose at the heel. To solve this problem (one often encountered by women), buy an athletic shoe that is manufactured in various widths, choosing the one that best fits. Lining the heel with moleskin tape can reduce movement on the heel, as can using the extra high eyelets some manufacturers put on some shoes. Plastic eyelets will help you tighten the shoe around the foot. Using two shoestrings, one on the lower eyelets and another on the upper ones will also help compensate for differences in fit between the front of the shoe and the back. A padded heel tab protects the back of the Achilles tendon. Notching in the heel tab gives the tendon room to move when the toe is down but the sole is perpendicular to the floor. The heel counter stabilizes the heel by preventing side-to-side movement and helps decrease overpronation (painful flat-footedness). Some shoes have a doubled heel counter to maximize heel stability.
There are many walking shoes on the market and some running shoes will work. You want a stable rear heel counter and a firm but cushioned sole. You can give yourself and your knees a quick new shoe by replacing the insoles. Replaceable insoles such as those made by Spenco can take significant force off your knees.
This is a section from Dr. Jack E, Jensen’s book The One Stop Knee Shop. Read the next section Getting the Most Out of Your Walk.